Six. That’s how many times Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison was asked during a flagship national current affairs programme this week to explain the “ red line ” warning he’d issued to the Solomon Islands after it signed a security pact with China. And that’s not counting the number of times he’s been asked about it outside of that 30-minute interview. Yet in his two minutes “response” during his televised election pitch to voters ahead of Saturday’s federal election – already hailed as a nail biter – Morrison never answered the question. Like the seasoned politician that he is, he wiggled his way out of it by talking up his handling of Australia’s relationship with the Solomons and suggesting, not for the first time, that he knew what was in the Pacific nation’s best interests. Which couldn’t be further from the truth. Manasseh Sogavare, the islands’ prime minister, is infuriated at being patronised and has called out the Morrison government and its Western allies for their hypocrisy. Sogavare recently told parliament that Australia was only paying lip service to the Solomon Islands’ sovereignty, adding that opponents of the security pact had insulted his country and threatened to invade. Morrison denied the allegation. Both Australia and the United States have hit out at the Solomon Islands’ security deal with China, saying it lacks transparency, and pressured Sogavare not to sign it. For its part, the Solomons said neither it nor any other Pacific island nation was briefed on Aukus – a trilateral security treaty between Australia, the US and Britain – before that was announced in September last year. Australian MP’s #WrongAsian saga highlights ‘painfully homogenous’ culture Australia’s Pacific ties are at their lowest ebb in years. Canberra has dismissed – and at times even outright mocked – the region’s climate change concerns, even as it accuses China of “ interfering ” in the Pacific. But what about this red line? Generally, it refers to a boundary or limit that should not be crossed. But in politics, it can also mean war. It can be thought of as “an unequivocal threat”, international-relations professor Albert Wolf wrote in a commentary for the US Department of Military Instruction’s Modern War Institute – a “line in the sand” that hints at the use of the “full fury of the state” if it is crossed. No country in the Asia-Pacific, or anywhere else for that matter, wants to be threatened The US, with which Australia has aligned itself to counter China’s rise, has employed the phrase numerous times. The use of chemical weapons by Syrian forces was described by former US President Barack Obama in 2012 as a “red line” that would necessitate American military intervention. In the years since, it has been applied to everything from Iran’s nuclear programme to the Russia-Ukraine crisis. Scary stuff. Call it cowardly tantrums or hysteria, but not only did Morrison openly articulate such a threat, he and his government ignored more than six requests to explain how this red line would be crossed. No country in the Asia-Pacific, or anywhere else for that matter, wants to be threatened. Least of all when they have been left in the dark about the specifics of the threat. Morrison’s words also set a dangerous precedent in a region that, until recently, had no red lines. The Pacific region is used to hosting many different powers, including Australia and the US. Further afield across Asia, Malaysia hosts a small Australian air force detachment at Butterworth, there is a US military logistics facility in Singapore and, according to a tally by US scholar David Vine, there are nearly 200 American military bases in Japan and South Korea. For decades, countries in the region have hosted other powers, and are not accustomed to being told what they can or cannot do by their neighbours. So what makes the Australian prime minister think he can issue threats to other sovereign nations, politically aligned with his government or otherwise? It’s clearly serious. The main opposition Labor Party sought an urgent meeting with Morrison’s government after he’d made his threat, with shadow foreign minister Penny Wong querying why the administration saw fit to use such strident language. PM’s Solomon Islands stance ‘inconsistent’, Australian opposition says Marise Payne, the incumbent foreign minister, said in response that she could not discuss with others the content of private conversations she has had with Morrison. Australia goes to the polls on Saturday and Morrison’s coalition government is currently lagging behind Labor by roughly two to four measly percentage points, according to opinion surveys. It would be crossing a red line indeed if a prime minister – of any country – who thinks nothing of threatening other nations were to remain in power.